woking borough council

A PETITION to protect Green Belt land in Woking borough from development has been delivered to Parliament and will be sent to James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing. 

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Lynn Cozens, Fiona Syrett, Cllr Amanda Boote, Jonathan Lord and Gary Elson.

The 1,250-signature petition was presented to Woking MP Jonathan Lord, who added his signature.

Byfleet and West Byfleet councillor Amanda Boote, along with local campaigners Fiona Syrett and Lynn Cozens and Gary Elson, deputy chairman of the Byfleet, West Byfleet & Pyrford Residents’ Association, were given special permission by John Bercow to present the petition at the Speakers’ Door.

The petition was organised in reaction to the Site Allocations Development Plan Document (DPD, approved by Woking Borough Council on 18 October last year.)

Cllr Boote said that the petition and the council’s consultation over the DPD will now go to an independent inspector to make a ruling.

“We will hear if we are successful later in the year,” Cllr Boote said.

For the full story get the 28 February edition of the News & Mail

HIGH Street in Woking is closed to through traffic from today, Monday 18 February, for two weeks as part of the ongoing works to transform the town centre.

During the works, Farrans Construction will be installing underground electrical ducting across High Street.

This will involve closing High Street from the junction of Chapel Street to Victoria Way to through traffic. Access for businesses, deliveries and residents will be maintained at all times and limited to authorised vehicles only.

During the works, vehicles will be required to exit High Street via Broadway/Chertsey Road. Traffic marshals will be available to assist drivers and vehicles at all times.

Bus stops along High Street will be suspended and relocated to Broadway.

Woking Borough Council said it thanked residents, workers and all those visiting the town for their patience during the works.

POLICE and Crime Commissioner Kevin Hurley met with members of the council behind the closed doors of the Civic Offices on Monday to discuss their ‘new vision’ for policing in the borough.

The arrangement provided council chiefs the chance to engage in ‘frank discussion’ with Mr Hurley away from the eyes of the public.

But that didn’t stop the News & Mail hi-jacking both the commissioner and council chief executive Ray Morgan prior to the meeting.

They planned explored future business plans, how to work closer together, and shared concerns over the issues on the town’s streets.

Mr Morgan, said: “I believe we share the same goals, making our already safe streets safer.

“The meeting will enable Kevin to discuss his vision and give elected members a chance to ask him questions to build a relationship that will last long into the future.

“From a council officer’s point of view, there is a neutral interest between us and the meeting will be open and frank in its discussion – hence why we have asked for no press to be present.”

Mr Hurley pledges to take a zero tolerance approach to policing in Surrey, deliver more street policing, to put victims at the centre of the criminal justice system, and to give people more opportunities to have their say about how the force operates.

His mission statement also focuses heavily on the protection of police on the beat. He also believes that better starting salaries are paramount.

Mr Hurley said: “Policing is one of the most rewarding jobs there is, but we must not take for granted the goodwill and public spirit of those who join.

Job satisfaction does not pay the bills. I will also be working alongside Chief Constable Lynne Owens to identify where we have discretion to offer a better starting salary for new recruits that reflects the valuable contribution they make.

“We expect police constables to deal with some of the most dangerous people in our society.

“Officers join the service to help the public, so we must help them.”

FURIOUS Byfleeters are up in arms about an application to turn green belt land into a permanent gipsy site and more than 300 residents have already strongly objected online.

Their anger is further fuelled by the fact that the planning application, originally dated January 12, was only discovered by chance on Woking Borough Council’s website three days before the closing date for comments.

PROTESTERS - village residents, including Andrea Boutell, at the site in Murrays Lane, Byfleet

PROTESTERS – village residents, including Andrea Boutell, at the site in Murrays Lane, Byfleet

No one had received any letters and no notices were put up on the land. In such a close-knit community, word quickly spread around the village and residents inundated the council’s planning department with calls and emails of complaints.

At just a few hours’ notice, 70 residents gathered at the site in peaceful protest.

Police officers turned up and it is believed that gipsies called them out.

Andrea Boutell, whose family have lived in Byfleet since 1850, said: “We are very distressed to hear about this planning application. It is a beautiful piece of green belt land and must not be destroyed in this way – it is supposed to be for agricultural use only.”

The plans submitted are to change the land from agricultural-only use into four pitches to accommodate ‘an extended Romani family’ on the site south of Murrays Lane, to include associated works, four day rooms, hardstanding and a septic tank.

Residents said planning officer Michael Parker initially insisted that notice had been sent out, yet no one had received a thing.

Apparently he then backtracked, admitting that the letters had not in fact been sent out due to a ‘glitch’ in the system.

They also said that the three Byfleet councillors – Anne Roberts, Esther Watson Green and Anne Farrant claimed they knew nothing about the plans, even though they are all on the Woking Borough  Council planning committee.

Villagers now have until February 21 to comment on the application with borough planning chiefs expected to make a decision on March 29.

It is unclear why these plans have been put forward when a previous application for a scout hut on the land had been thrown out.

West Estates sold the land, it is thought, to Tom Valler, of Aldershot. The current planning applicant is believed to be his wife Mrs G Valler.

Mr Valler, who owns a secondhand vehicle business, owns the land to the left where the planning permission has been applied for.

His sister Charmaine Valler and her husband Nathan own the land to the right where she currently keeps animals.

Herself a gipsy, Ms Valler used to be employed by Surrey Community Action (a Lottery-funded charity) as a gipsy and community development officer.

She has been involved in advising councils, including Woking, about the rights and needs of her community.

Andrea said: “Murrays Lane is a single lane only. There are no footpaths and it is not suitable for caravans or heavy vehicles as it’s frequently used by children playing, dog walkers, cyclists and people enjoying the countryside and all it provides.

“The entrance and exit is on a dangerous corner right next to a school. If the plans were approved there would also be additional pressure on our already over-subscribed schools, amenities, doctors surgeries.”

It is thought the scout hut application was rejected because the site is home to one of the largest active badger setts in Surrey, which is only six metres away from the proposed development.

Their habitat and wellbeing is protected by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

Andrea added: “Byfleet village is a wonderful community where we all look after and out for each other.

“We will not take this lying down.”

One resident, who did not want to be named, said: “I can only see this development negatively impacting on the quality of life for Byfleet residents by continued over-development and loss of leisure opportunities and damage to the natural environment.”

Another resident, who again did not want their name published, said: “It is preposterous to think that this application can go anywhere other than the nearest bin.

“As already stated very clearly by other residents, we do more than enough as a county to accommodate travelling communities.

“This is a blatant abuse of the laws relating to planning and should not merit any more time and effort in discussing.

“Spend the time dealing with the current issues that affect the local people of Byfleet and the surrounding areas, which is after all what we pay our council taxes for.”

Another concern brought up was that of flooding.

“Due to the detrimental effect it will have on the environment and wildlife, concerns about construction on possible flood plains would make the existing flooding worse in the village.

“This land should be kept for agricultural use or a natural wildlife reserve only.”

Another villager stated: “Byfleet does not want the makings of another Dale Farm on its doorstep. Please throw this ill-conceived plan out – it has no place in our village community.

A Woking Borough Council spokesman said: “The council can confirm that a planning application has been received and will be dealt with through the planning process.”

Byfleet, West Byfleet and Pyrford Residents’ Association publicity officer Cliff Bolton has arranged a meeting at Byfleet Village Hall on Monday (February 11) at 7.30pm for 8pm.

He said: “It is expected to be a well-attended, heated debate between councillors and residents.”

Cllr Farrant confirmed that she, along with Cllr Roberts, Cllr Watson Green and Surrey County Council Chairman Geoff Marlow will be at the meeting.

Cllr Marlow said: “I will be at the meeting. Naturally the application has roused much interest. I would urge people to keep their heads and keep to the law.

“I understand there will be police presence but I hope their services will not be needed.”

Andrea added: “The only reason the police are going to the meeting is because of safety concerns regarding the sheer volume of people expected to turn up.”

There were more than 300 comments on the council website by W3ednesday of this week. Residents have until February 21 to make their comments known about planning application PLAN/2013/0016 online at the council website. Anonymous responses will be discounted.

However, late representations will be accepted by email or letter until a decision is made. The council said the target date for a decision is Friday, March 29.

WOKING town centre’s first car park charge increase since 2009 has caused a major rift within the council.

A 10p per hour price increase for stays of up to four hours was voted in at the meeting of the full executive on Thursday, December 6, with the new rates due to be rolled out in April.

Lib-Dem leader Denzil Coulson has already aired concerns that a hike in fees could undo the hard work done by councillors to make Woking more attractive to shoppers.

WANTED FREEZE – Lib-Dem leader Denzil Coulson had hoped the council would vote in favour of a price freeze

WANTED FREEZE – Lib-Dem leader Denzil Coulson had hoped the council would vote in favour of a price freeze

His party shared the view that town centre economic growth, recently given a £150m shot in the arm with Surrey County and Woking Borough Council’s approval for the new Bandstand Square shopping complex, will be hindered by the rise in parking costs.

Horsell West ward councillor Ann-Marie Barker highlighted that a rise in charges will lead to an increase in commuters and town centre users
parking on residential roads in and around Horsell.

She said: “Parking has already gone so far out that I have seen somebody park in Horsell, take a folding bike from their boot and cycle into the town centre.”

But Leader of the Council John Kingsbury (left) has hit back, labelling Lib-Dem plans to keep prices as they are as disappointing.

The Tory chief also described plans to implement an unfunded price freeze as irresponsible.

In order to raise the £400,000 necessary to keep parking prices from rising, Cllr Kingsbury took a swipe at the Lib-Dems and suggested they shut down one of the town’s day centres.

He added: “Perhaps they will get that money by cutting grants to the voluntary sector, which we fund each year to help those people in our society who need it the most.

“Either way, the Lib-Dems need to say what they would cut if they are going to freeze car parking charges.

“I am very disappointed that there appears to be some politicking about this — a feeling that the election campaign for 2013 has started even earlier than usual.

“It is the usual Lib-Dem story, opposing everything that they think might be unpopular in order to try and win votes.

“Woking Conservatives would rather make the decisions that will secure this council’s financial viability.

“We believe this approach offers residents the best deal in the long term.”

BANDSTAND SQUARE is set to receive a £150million facelift, Woking Borough Council has announced.  

Council chief executive Ray Morgan, flanked by leader of the council John Kingsbury and key stakeholders from Woking Shopping, also revealed that Marks & Spencer would act as the anchor store in a gleaming new 60,000 sq ft unit.

An additional 60,000 sq ft of space will be occupied by other retails in a project that is due to break ground in spring 2014.

TOP MARKS - Marks & Spencer will be the site's anchor store

TOP MARKS – Marks & Spencer will be the site’s anchor store

Woking Borough Council will cover 50 per cent of the overall cost of the development, with the remaining funds being drawn from outside funding partners.

Mr Morgan said the outside parties would be finalised by December this year and confirmed that Marks & Spencer was the ‘vital trigger’ to their involvement.

He added said: “We are delighted that Marks & Spencer have agreed to become our anchor store.

“This project has come from understanding what the town desired and is another step to improving Woking town centre.

“It follows our core strategy and we are pleased with the amount of retailer interest.

“Everything is geared towards trading in time for Christmas 2017.”

Director of Woking Town Centre Management Tim Buckley said: “This is a massive step forward for the town and is a demonstration that Woking is open for business.”

A planning application for Bandstand Square will be submitted early in the new year with approval all but assured. And 190 apartments, plus a new business-class hotel, will also rise up with building work estimated for completion in 2017.

It is estimated the development will generate more than 1,000 new jobs and will complete the integration of the Wolsey Place and Peacocks shopping centres.

Customers will be able to circulate through the two centres with an “enhanced quality retail experience”.

But the project is not without its stumbling blocks.

Construction cannot begin without first relocating the fire station from its current home in Church Street.

Council chiefs also confirmed that an alternate road system will need to be installed, thus creating a need to rehome Woking’s bustling market stalls.

With the acquisition and subsequent demolition of the former Post Office and Globe House in Victoria Way, Gala Coral staff will also need to be suitably relocated.

A spokesman for the betting company said the council had their full backing.

They said: “The council has kept us informed about its plans and we are in discussion with it to relocate our employees during 2013.

“This will enable the site to be cleared in preparation for construction in 2014. It is most encouraging that the council is leading on improving the town and at the same time taking care to retain existing employment.”

 

DELIGHT - councillor Graham Cundy

DELIGHT – councillor Graham Cundy

A COUNCIL framework for how Woking as a borough will evolve over the next 15 years has been declared ‘sound’ by an independent planning inspector.

The policy, also known as Woking 2027, will guide future developments in the town, help outline where jobs will be created, highlights commercial opportunites, and also acts as a template for residential builds and environmental protection.

Andrew Seaman, appointed by the secretary of state to undertake the evaulation, also said that Woking’s core strategy is “legally compliant, subject to modifications, and should be adopted.”

The approval comes as a huge relief to portfolio holder for planning policy councillor Graham Cundy who said the framework could be integrated into council plans as soon as October.

He said: “We are absolutely delighted to have such a positive response from the planning inspector to our core strategy.

“The core strategy will now be considered for adoption by council at its meeting in October.

“If adopted, it will form the council’s planning policy framework for managing future development within the area.”

Initial core strategy plans were drawn up in 2010 when residents and local businesses and organisations were consulted on a draft of how the borough should move forward.

The feedback was infused with additional council research before a core strategy document was produced.

This document was subject to further consultation during the summer of 2011, before it was submitted to central Government the following December.

A special public inquiry was conducted earlier this year in which the framework was scrutinsed by Mr Seaman.

But following five days of examination and various consults with key stakeholders, the inspector gave the strategy his support.

IN THE RED CORNER - Mohammad Ali is a step closer to having a controversial election result overturned

IN THE RED CORNER – Mohammad Ali is a step closer to having a controversial election result overturned

A LABOUR candidate is a step closer to having a controversial election result overturned after winning a High Court battle.

Mohammad Ali has filed a civil case against Liberal Democrat Mohammed Bashir after losing the Maybury and Sheerwater local council election by just 16 votes.

Mr Ali is alleging that election fraud took place and is petitioning to have the May 3 result declared null and void. He is seeking a new election for the ward.

Rather than defend the fraud allegations, Mr Bashir – represented by Mr Philip Goldenberg – and Lib-Dem supporters, applied to have the petition struck out.

This is just the first stage. Next is for the court to appoint a commissioner and conduct scrutiny of votes

Counsel for Mr Ali, Mr Gavin Millar QC, argued that as a matter of great public interest, the petition should proceed.
Woking Borough Council representatives – Timothy Straker QC, head of legal services Peter Bryant, and electoral manager Charlotte Griffiths – did not oppose scrutiny of the votes.

Mrs Justice Slade and Mr Justice Nichol presiding at the High Court at the Royal Courts of Justice on Strand in London endorsed this and dismissed the Lib-Dem application.

Former Lib Dem councillor Mr Goldenberg said: “The advice of a senior barrister specialising in election law said the Labour Party’s petition was seriously defective. In particular, it gave no valid reason why the election
result should be overturned.”

But Mr Bashir was ordered to meet the costs of both Mr Ali and Woking Borough Council (which could be £20,000 to £25,000).

After the appeal was dismissed Mr Bashir said: “Of course I am disappointed by the result.”

But Labour agent Liz Evans said: “The result was better than we could have hoped. It came good.”

Victory at the court last Friday means the Lib-Dem party are likely to foot the bill.

Party leader at the council Denzil Coulson said: “We respect the High Court decision. We are committed to conducting free and fair elections and if the court should find any Lib-Dem member, or persons acting on behalf of the party, guilty of any wrongdoing, the Liberal Democrats will act swiftly against them.”

Mr Bryant said: “Following the decision, an election commissioner will be appointed to consider the petition.”

The level of scrutiny will need be decided – and whether it will be in the council offices or at the High Court in London – but the costs could total £500,000.

Mr Bashir, who will now have to act on his own behalf and will be applying for Legal Aid, said: “I don’t want the taxpayers to have to pay. It is a waste of money.”

Mr Ali said: “This is just the first stage. Next is for the court to appoint a commissioner and conduct scrutiny of votes.

“This shows the court does see merit in our case.”

The High Court hearing is likely to go ahead in early September.

CUTS - Mohammad Ali (right) could not sway the council's decision

CUTS – Mohammad Ali (right) could not sway the council’s decision

A PETITION to overturn the decision to withdraw funding from the Neighbourhood Advice Centre has been thrown out by Woking Borough Council.

More than 700 signatures were presented to the council by Labour candidate Mohammad Ali at the meeting of the full executive on Thursday.

His plea swayed the opinion of a number of councillors who originally opposed the continued funding of a service that provides integration and administrative support to Woking residents – but the proposal to reverse the decision fell short in the vote.

Councillor Mohammed Iqbal was one of those in favour of funding the NAC with the £40,000 required to keep the service alive.

He dismissed claims that the Citizens Advice Bureau offers a similar service which could be as readily accessed by residents.

Cllr Iqbal said: “There is a genuine need for this service in the community. The Citizens Advice Bureau has put on one-day services but this is not sufficient to accommodate the increase in users of the NAC in the past year.”

Figures show 2,500 residents accessed services at the Maybury Centre-based offices in 2011 – a 500 user increase on the previous year.

The centre has been without funding since the original decision to cut support was made late last year and the NAC has since depleted its reserves just to keep the doors open.

And Mr Ali, who is taking the council to High Court over ‘persistent electoral irregularities’ after missing out on a seat in the May elections, estimates funds will only last another ‘two or three months’.

He said: “With no external funding, we were solely reliant on the council. Without their support there is no other way to fund the service. At the moment we’re operating on reduced opening hours and as a group we now have to hope funding can be generated from other sources.

“Our biggest grief with Woking Borough Council is the hazy criteria they provided us with and insisted we meet for funding to continue. We were told we had to achieve charitable status, receive a quality mark and appoint independent trustees to the board – all of which we did.

“We don’t really understand why a 20-year service is now being closed down without so much as a grace period.”

Chief executive Ray Morgan confirmed the council’s decision was final. He said: “The original decision was entirely a matter of discretion – there was not a consensus that value for money was being achieved.

“Members took the view that other groups currently provide similar services in the area which are free of charge where we are having to fund the NAC.”

FRUSTRATION - Councillor Denzil Coulson believes parking should be free for all on Sundays

FRUSTRATION – Councillor Denzil Coulson believes parking should be free for all on Sundays

LIB-DEM leader Denzil Coulson has revealed his frustration at Woking Borough Council’s decision to award parking concessions to church-goers on a Sunday.

Cllr Coulson believes free parking for all Woking residents in ‘tough economic times’ would have been a much fairer alternative. He also said that the council may have created a ‘rod for their own back’ should similar debates arise again.

He said: “I think the line needs to be clear and that policies should treat everyone fairly – it should be free parking for everyone or not at all.

The line has not been consistent and if other groups were to come forward under the equalities act, there may be some problems further down the road

“The council have asked the Neighbourhood Advice Centre to make sure they meet the needs of the wider community and are accessible to everyone, yet they have different standards for the church parking concession.

“The line has not been consistent and if other groups were to come forward under the equalities act, there may be some problems further down the road.”

Free parking between 7am-1pm was a recommendation in the recent Equality Impact Assessment report which helped the council reach a decision over the controversial concession.

Cllr Coulson claims denying residents of ‘no-faith’ could limit commercial efficiency in the town centre.

“We strongly believe that Woking residents of all faiths or none are entitled to benefit from free parking.

“We felt that it would have been fairer to spend £156,000 to help all 96,000 residents on a Sunday rather than spending £40,560 for just 345 cars belonging to one particular faith group.

“This would have been a fairer approach and it would have helped stimulate economic activity on a Sunday.”